Systems are the solution for small business frustrations

I have long advocated systems as a solution for virtually every problem faced by small business owners. And I have often received complaints about this. I am told things like, “It isn’t that simple,” “You don’t understand my situation,” or more bluntly, “Systems aren’t the solution to everything.”

I think that these claims arise because of a misconception regarding systems.

In a certain sense, systems are indeed simple. They provide specific guidelines for accomplishing a particular task. Follow the steps and you get the desired result. When the systems are clear and complete, a novice can follow the steps and complete the task. As an example, consider the User Manual for the latest gadget you bought. If the manual is written well, you can easily follow its instructions to accomplish the desired task.

I will admit that operating a small business is more complex than using many gadgets. There can be dozens of variables involved, not to mention the physical skills required. But the fact is, you follow a system when you produce a product or provide a service. You have certain steps that you follow. You know the results that you want and the steps required to achieve those results. That is your system.

No matter how easy or complex a specific task, there is one particular series of steps that will complete the task most efficiently. This is true whether you are balancing a check book or launching a rocket. Systems are nothing more than the process of identifying the most efficient way to achieve the desired result, and then documenting those steps.

As an example, last year I began investing in rental properties. As I was preparing to do so, I asked many people about their knowledge and experience with rentals. Some offered sound advice and encouragement, while others offered little more than negativity. What I discovered was that those with a positive attitude towards rentals were following a system, while those who were more negative weren’t.

Those who were following a system avoided many of the problems the naysayers were experiencing. By following a system and avoiding problems, the desired results were more easily achieved. The same principle applies to any task, including running a small business .

Using systems and procedures to manage your time

If you are like the typical small business owner, you never seem to have enough time. Between giving meeting with customers, doing the books, building widgets, going to the bank, and a myriad other tasks, the day seems to be over long before the tasks are.

There can be a lot of reasons for this, but I think one of the primary causes is simply trying to do too much. There are many tasks that can be outsourced, delegated, or simply dispensed with. As a simple example, I used to pick up supplies for my crews. Invariably, I would arrive at the job only to be told that they also needed something else. I wasted an incredible amount of time making multiple trips to the store. Since delegating this responsibility to the crew supervisor, I rarely pick up supplies.

Just as you wouldn’t assign a new apprentice to perform the more complex tasks within your business, you shouldn’t assign yourself to tasks that are better suited for others. Concentrate your efforts on those tasks that truly require your attention and you might be surprised to discover that you have more time on your hands.

Of course, simply delegating responsibilities isn’t enough. If the task isn’t performed properly the result can be even more time consuming to correct. But the solution is not the avoidance of delegating; the solution is to have systems and procedures to guide the employee.

Developing step-by-step instructions for a task provides the employee with clear guidelines. If the instructions are followed, the result is predictable. The employee can do his job without being micromanaged, and you can spend your time on the things that you love doing.

If I had a hammer

If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning. If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the evening. If I had a hammer, I’d hammer all over this land. I don’t know about you, but thinking about doing all of that hammering makes me a little tired. If I had that much hammering to do, it might make sense to invest in a nail gun.

Don’t get me wrong, I like hammers. In fact I have 6 different hammers, ranging from a 12 ounce claw to a 20 pound sledge. Hammers are great tools. They allow us to drive nails and break things. But sometimes there is a tool that works better than a hammer. Sometimes there is a tool that will get the job done faster and more efficiently.

Unfortunately, many small business owners hammer away all day long and never spend a few moments looking for a better tool. They think that old ball peen they inherited from their father is the only tool that will work.

While that hammer may do the job, it has its limitations. You could use it to break up a concrete slab, but it would be a slow, laborious task. But in a figurative sense, this is precisely what many small business owners do.

Rather than using the available tools to build a better business, they plod along doing things the same way as their predecessors. Rather than take advantage of the technology available today, they use an abacus to do a computer’s job.

The ironic thing is, they are basically using their forehead as a hammer. They are beating their head against the wall and then wonder why they have a head ache. If they’d only pause and reflect on their situation, they might realize that their head can be used as more than a hammer.

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